Respect The Umpires
By Coach Joe Hernandez
Most of us are close to our 5th or 6th game in the season. We are excited with the progress our kids are making and eager to see them do better. We have also seen a few games where we were not to thrill with some of the calls made by the umpires as well as delighted by some great calls made. Usually it depends on whether the call were in your favor or not. Umpires get a lot of grief...it is a thankless job. I thought I share some of my views from my years of playing and coaching.
To begin with, all parents, coaches and managers must realize that we have a lot of very young (teenagers) umpires in our league. Some do not look older than the players themselves do. Just like our youngsters are learning to play the game and develop their skills, so are these fine young men learning their craft. As mature adults we must be tolerant and understanding. Just like we must respect our opponents we need to do the same for the umpires. We need them...without them we could not have competition. They play a very important role by providing a fair and safe experience for our young ballplayers. They also help our youngster learn the game. Many times I have seen a young umpire try to show and correct a pitcher, catcher or hitter a "flaw" in their mechanics and demonstrate the proper way of doing something.
Have you ever try umpiring? Do you think you know all the rules to call a game without getting "beaten" by the parents, coaches and players? I have seen a parent sitting in his car in the parking lot complaining about a strike call! The fact that he wore glasses and was 100 yards away did not in the least make him think that perhaps the umpire had a better view of the pitch. Of course you will never hear a parent say, ..."boy what is wrong with that umpire, he called that a ball when clearly it should have been strike three against my son".
My favorite story happened two years ago. An elderly gentleman was sitting on the first base side behind the fence enjoying the game. He was quite vocal on just about every call. At one point the pitcher began his motion but did not throw (basically a balk, not called on 8 year olds)and he yelled that it was clearly a strike despite him not seeing the ball pitched!
Some of the rules make the game even more confusing. This years rule with the delayed steal at home and whether or not the pitcher is approaching the mound has many confused. I have asked more than one umpire before the game starts on this ruling and have gotten more than one interpretation. We can't blame these young umpires for this when even seasoned coaches are confused.
We must not expect perfection from these young umpires any more than you would from your own young ballplayers. The level of officiating in many of the games is commensurate with the level of play. I realize that on occasion you can experience frustration with a “bad” call. This season alone I have seen dozens of very bad calls, and I have seen many great calls as well. One young umpire called the entire game without ever bending his knees, so every ball that was ankle high looked like a strike to him. But this is baseball. Our infielders do the same, even though we tell them a hundred times to get in ready position they remain as stiff as a board. That is what makes baseball such a great game, it gives everyone an equal opportunity to make errors!
This same umpire had the count incorrect at least 7 times during the game. It was obvious that he was a “rookie”, but he was trying his best. How can you fault him for that? In the same game the field umpire made a questionable call, I asked him about it and he stuck to his ruling. I checked the Rule Book and the umpire was correct! I learned something from him. When I approach any umpire I try to do so with the objective of not trying to change his call, but to inquire. I know that on several occasions I have been correct and the umpire's ruling stood. But I am also sure that they went and checked and learned that in fact they had made a “bad” call and therefore learned something from me. Hopefully an umpire will not repeat the same mistake and a future game will benefit from a “correct” call.
Where I am most concern is when an umpire is not paying attention to the game or actually tells you after you talk to him on a particular play that his ruling is correct and you are not given any "logical" answer. In one game this season we were trailing by one run, my player hit a ball down the right field line for a double...the umpire signaled "foul' with his hands although he claimed he was calling the ball fair (with the noise no one could hear), my runner slowed down thinking it was called foul...I thought he had called foul before I realized that it was fair and encourage the runner to keep running. He was tagged-out on second by a close play. Had he never slowed down due to the call he would have been safe. I ask the umpire about his hand signal and he insisted that pointing to the right field fence was correct and indicated fair ball. Go figure. I'm still researching this one.
As coaches and parents we must understand that the umpire ‘s decision is final, less there is a reasonable doubt that his decision may be in conflict with the rules, at which time the manager may appeal and ask that a correct ruling be made. The appeal can only be made to the umpire who made the protested decision. The umpire may ask another umpire for information or clarification before making a final decision. Once that is done learn to live with the outcome.
I strongly urge all managers and coaches to carry the Rule Book. You can always consult the Rules. If you take the time to read it you will be surprised of how much you thought was true is not and vice a versa.
Bottom line is that you should approach all umpires with respect and courtesy. Don’t go “bunkers” and start screaming and appear to be threating. Can you imagine how an 80 lb, 5’4” umpire may feel being “aggressively” yelled at by some 250 lb., 6’2” coach? Umpires are attacked often in Little League. In fact attorney Mel Narol, right here in Princeton, New Jersey devotes a good amount of his practice to handling personal injury cases on umpires that have been attacked by crazed parents and coaches.
As coaches we have an enormous obligation as well as a chance to become important role models and mentors in the lives of our young ballplayers. As a parent we are our kid’s most important role model. We must all keep an eye on our own behavior. Kids are constantly watching adult’s behavior. They learn from us. If they see you yelling at the umpire, hear you bad-mouthing the opponent or chastising a player, what do you think they are learning from you? Many will think that this is the “right way” to behave. We must make sure that our behavior or the behavior of any of the players is not disrespectful to the umpire. In doing so we teach our youngsters the true meaning of sportsmanship and the spirit of competition.
These young umpires will make mistakes. We need to welcome these mistakes even at the expense of hurting the outcome of a game...no matter how important the game. That’s how they will learn to get better. If you can’t deal with this then you should not be coaching. You must have the patience, the same patience you would and I hope you do give your own players.
Last year I had a chat with Bob Bigelow, former NBA player and now author, speaker and NBA scout, and I remember he said to me how too many adults act on their tendencies to want to point out and to correct every mistake a child makes during practice games. He went on to explain how this hinders their development and can be an intimidating factor. Kids become afraid to be creative and to take risks. I think the same holds true for our young umpires. We as adults need to allow them to make mistakes so that they can learn and grow from their experiences. In the long run our kids and the league benefit from it. Remember they are kids too and deserve the same consideration as your own child and players.
So let’s begin to show respect. Introduce yourself to them during the game. Talk to them, be civil and teach your young ballplayers to do the same. At the end of a game thank them for calling the game. Overall I think these young men do a great job and show remarkable "restraint" when faced with some pretty obnoxious individuals.
I would like to see the league emphasize more to these young umpires the importance of proper position – box in the slot, head height, tracking, timing, and concentration. This is where we are seeing a lot of inconsistency with the strike zone. But parents and coaches as well as players need to understand that even a good "athletic" umpire will require a few years to "master" the plate.
Visit our link section, there you will find some links to “Umpiring” with lots of information. Some will surprise you. Or just copy these URL and visit them:
For a quick review of baseball most common “rule myth” go here: http://www.eteamz.com/baseball/rules/obr/myths/
For another interesting site of the rules go here:
The 12 Tips For Excelling As A New Volunteer Umpire
Umpiring is a fun and rewarding way to contribute to the Little League program. It's an essential part of any game. However, effective umpiring requires that you know the rules and mechanics and know them well. Yet it's unrealistic to expect volunteer, first time umpires to become instant experts. Study the rules, seek wisdom from other umps, attend clinics, learn from your mistakes, and over time, you will become a better ump. As you begin as a volunteer ump, you must, at a minimum have a mastery of the following:
1. Be prepared - Arrive at least 30 minutes before a game, get your equipment on and adjusted, use the restroom (!), meet with your umpire partner.
2. Set the stage - Hustle! Dress the part, get the infield warm ups done on time, meet with the managers, discuss the ground rules, answer questions, and start the game on time.
3. Keep the game moving - Grant "time outs" conservatively, pitchers get 8 warm up pitches or 1 minute between innings, keep the opposing team's catcher out to warm up the next pitcher, tell batters to "hustle" when appropriate, observe time limit rules.
4. Keep your eye on the ball - The ball will lead you to the play(s). At the same time, keep track of player's positions and whether they touch the bases.
5. Live ball vs. Dead Ball - Know the difference and always put the ball in play by signaling the pitcher and calling "Play!".
6. Fair vs. Foul - Know the difference and cover unusual foul territory issues with your partner before the game.
7. Catch vs. No-catch - Know the difference! Wait before making the call and be sure a catch has been made. A slight delay before making any call is always a good idea, then call it with authority!
8. Overthrows - Know where dead ball territory is for the field you're on; know what to do when overthrows occur.
9. You control the strike zone - It's a 3D box above home plate (including its edges), from above a player's knees to their armpits while they are in what you judge to be their natural stance when they swing at the ball. Don't be fooled by "paper platers" who crouch up like potato bugs at the plate. Be liberal, but not foolish - strikes are good and pitchers are learning, but above all else BE CONSISTENT with both teams.
10. Be aware of what the next play may be - Does a force situation exist? Are all conditions for an infield fly present? Is the right fielder likely to throw to first or second? Think ahead...and once the play starts, be prepared to move to a proper position to make the call.
11. Interference - Know what it is and what to do when it occurs. It happens a lot in Little League and is governed by a complex set of rules.
12. Obstruction - Know what it is and what to do when it occurs. It happens a lot in Little League.
13. Leaving early - Field umps: position yourself to see both the pitched ball arrive at the batter and the base runners' feet. BASEBALL: Do you have a red flag? Know what to do when runners leave early and how to place runners. Remember, the penalty is based on where the batter-runner ends up. SOFTBALL: It's simple; the runner is out.